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In the USA from 1904, Howe worked his way up from the position of janitor at the Lasky Studios in 1917 to become one of the greatest, and most prolific, Hollywood cinematographers of all time. His achievement seems today all the more remarkable given the paucity of people of Asian descent who were able to obtain major positions in the Hollywood system. The list of directors with whom he worked reads like a history of American cinema, stretching from Victor Fleming and Allan Dwan in the 1920s to Sidney Lumet and John Frankenheimer in the 60s, with a number of landmark figures in between.
Nicknamed 'Low Key Hoe' for his unadorned style, Howe pioneered the use of deep-focus photography and of the hand-held camera; for Robert Rossen's matador feature "The Brave Bulls" (1951), he strapped cameras to the actors' waists to capture an unprecedented perspective on the action. He also brought great excitement to the boxing scenes in Rossen's "Body and Soul" (1947) by photographing them in the ring while wearing roller skates. Howe also directed several films and TV shows and formed three production companies during his career.
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